Cook, cook, repeat: Michelin-star support for London’s frontline workers
Amongst the aristocratic structures in the heart of Mayfair in London, the prestigious Benares exudes very from across the longitude and latitude of India. Their traditional cooking and premium quality natural and sustainable ingredients are an embodiment of the subcontinent’s delicacies, providing gourmands with a world-class dining experience.
From The Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur to working with luminaries such as Pascal Proyart, Michel and Alain Roux, Joel Antunes and Pierre Koffmann, Head Chef Sameer Taneja brings his prowess in classical French and Indian cuisine to the hand-crafted menus of Benares.
Speaking to iGlobal, Chef Taneja highlights that diversity in Indian cuisine is a blessing: “What you see on a plate not only reflects the food itself, but also the traditions, the culture, and emotions of the country.”
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The gastronomic marvels in the food capital of India, Delhi was what captivated Taneja’s interest in food and cooking. As the young chef went on to receive his degree in culinary arts from Mangalore on India’s South-west coast, he gleefully speaks: “What a great decision that was! I never planned to be a cook, nor was it a hobby, it just came by accident. However, this could be the second-best thing to ever happen in my life – the first one being my children.”
His fascination with the Michelin concept pushed him to trail the Star: “I was intrigued by the thought of working in a kitchen, to experience high culinary standards and the chance to meet some of the world’s best chefs.
“In 2003, I got the great opportunity to work in the best fish restaurant in London, One-o-One, so I moved to the UK and my journey began.”
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“Benares is an institution. It is a dream come true to be able to cook here.”
Blending cultures, the way he blends his spices, Taneja’s European culinary background together with his contemporary desi cooking techniques creates excitement on the platter.
Culture is tightly knit in his personality and his food. “I have important family values which apply to my team in the kitchen too.”
On the , Taneja aligns his opinions: “In India, we do share the curry culture and I’m proud we’ve made it accessible to the whole world, but it definitely extends further than meat cooked in a lot of gravy.”
He further adds, “I sincerely encourage those who think Indian food is all about curries to visit the wonderful country and experience yourself the greatness of what we can offer.”
A peak into his customary style of Dum cooking: “We basically close the pot with the lid and seal it with the dough, so the full flavour remains in the pot and in the food without any being lost.”
On an endless journey of learning and developing, the culinary artist’s heart lies in his creation- the Porlock Bay Oyster and Cured Seabream Chaat. “It tingles all your tastebuds and it represents my mother’s cuisine and my travels.”
For a person whose day ends simply with a pint and some wholehearted curry, his Mexican adventure is worth mentioning. “A fellow chef took me for a street delicacy which was crunchy, salty and spicy… I soon realised it was fried grasshopper!”
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Compassion at its best
As we dive into another extended variation of the pandemic, Taneja recollects the adjustments to hardships they faced. “As soon as the lockdown was announced, we looked at alternative ways to keep the restaurant operating and to meet demand from our regular clients, quickly launching our home delivery service Benares@Home.”
The brigade at Benares extended their support to the NHS and Emergency Services workers on the frontline where for every order they received, they donated a freshly cooked, hot meal to the key workers in the locality.
Crossing a mark of over 15,000 meals is a truly incredible accomplishment for the whole team, their customers and humanity indeed.
“Personally, it was a time to do things for myself and with my family. Always find positivity and dare to challenge yourself as a business to be able to adapt to the different situations that may happen in life.”
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Moons and stars
The food industry Taneja says is magical, a beautiful thing that keeps the circle of life moving.
“So, my advice to young chefs is to be hungry for more, share and spread knowledge, and be ready to handle criticism. Head down, focus, push and repeat!”
He gets anecdotal about his days at culinary school: “We had very little time for ourselves and the kitchen is one of the only places I remember when looking back. Whilst we didn’t get a lot of sleep and the eating habits were irregular, the experience of being in the kitchen and witnessing the amazing culinary creations was all so beautiful to me.”
“Every award we receive is wonderful but winning the Michelin star at the start of 2021 was a dream come true.”
He expresses the sheer content: “On the day of the official announcement, there was a brilliant celebration and showers of Champagne. The whole year’s journey was reflected in a fraction of a second. The team was over the moon and it was lovely to see the huge smiles across their faces.”
While team Benares looks at new ways to challenge themselves and think progressively when it comes to their offerings, Chef Taneja reminds us to “Cook, cook and repeat”.